Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi. I challenge Syun Matsuena to a rap battle for the rights to his series, because I know Kishimoto won't show.

You may think that I have an advantage because I'm black, but you would be wrong. Matsuena has a secret weapon that I will be unable to overcome; because Engrish. Engrish always wins.

Chapter 32: Enemies On All Sides


With a blistering yawn, Naruto walked with his housemates to school. They were almost to the junction where they would have to split up to go their separate ways, but for the time being the tranquility of the morning was welcome after training with Jiraiya before dawn.

"I can't believe both of you are second year students now," Tenten said, shaking her head at Naruto and Shikamaru, "So did you two cheat on your final exams to pull your grades up or did you pull the old 'switching the test sheets' trick?"

Naruto glared at her half-heartedly, "Oi, I'll have you know that I'm killer at foreign languages… and gym… and…" Tenten waited for further elaboration, but nothing else came from Naruto, "…And…"

"-And?"

"Shhh, I'm thinking!"

Shikamaru rolled his eyes at the grin plastered on Tenten's face at having Naruto prove her point for her, "It's too much of a drag to be held back a year. The sooner I graduate and get a real job, the sooner I can get away from this ninja crap."

Naruto might have had his hopes and dreams set in being a ninja, Tenten might have accepted that it was a part of her life until the day she died, but Shikamaru wanted O-U-T, out. He had no fondness for risking his neck and dealing with killers. It just wasn't his scene.

Tenten turned her attention to him with a deadpan expression, "If that's true why don't you just kick ass in school and skip straight to college? I know you can. You don't even study and you keep a passing grade."

"Too troublesome," Why make the effort to accelerate through life when you could coast?

"Besides, this break was lame," Naruto insisted, squinting his eyes and walking with his arms crossed over his chest, "We didn't do anything cool. All we did was missions and train for a month."

"-And you had that tournament," Shikamaru pointed out.

"-That you didn't make a single yen in," Tenten took over, teasingly. It had been a source of great amusement for the entire household that Naruto had worked his ass off for absolutely nothing.

They had promptly clammed up when Naruto told them he'd Rasengan-ed a master into acute organ failure, but even so Naruto did not like to be reminded that he had come out of the D of D Tournament with no large sum of money to his name, "Shut up you moochers!"

Tenten laughed and waved goodbye as she and Shikamaru went off their own way to school, leaving Naruto to go his own. An exasperated sigh flew past his lips. A whole summer, and he'd spent it training and fighting. No down time, no free moments to go and visit his friends in other places like Renka, Sakura, or even Hinata if he dared to try and brave Hyuuga security again to reach her.

Oh well. He could sleep when he was dead. Time flew when you were preparing yourself to take on all comers.

As Naruto reached the front gate, he figured Kenichi and Miu had to have been running late. Normally their paths would have linked up with his by then and they would have gone the rest of the way together.

They still had the same homeroom together, so he would see them in a few minutes anyway, but any deviation from the more mundane aspects of Naruto's normalcy was usually met by him with paranoia. It didn't help that he was a magnet for trouble who happened to be friends with more of them.

And it took all of two minutes before ever entering the school building for him to find trouble, though instead of being aimed at him it looked to be set up one of his more ordinary friends.

Makoto, and Yuuka was with her. Also, a bunch of leering guys, including the big, muscly guy from the Karate Club that Kenichi flattened twice was leading the pack of eight. What was his name? Daimonji maybe?

"You should leave the wood sword at home," Daimonji said holding the aforementioned practice weapon in his hand, "Martial arts are only for strong people. A girl like you definitely doesn't count."

"This is just for my club," Makoto defended, unnerved at being surrounded, and without her weapon to boot. For all of the good it would have done her, it at least gave her a measure of security, "And what kind of sexist crap is that?"

"It is what it is," Daimonji took a step back and let his goons move in to grab at the girls while he grabbed the sword with both hands, preparing to break it into two, "Let's just get rid of this shall we?" He said, chuckling cruelly.

Ugh, they were the touchy, groping, sexually harassing type. Damn deviants. Jiraiya might have been a serious pervert, but at least he was more of a 'look, don't touch' type. Not without consent at least, which Naruto had never heard of him actually getting… but that was neither here nor there.

It was too early in the morning to deal with idiot bullies, thus Naruto simply shouldered his way through the crowd blocking off the sidewalk around the two girls and turned back around, giving a grumpy look at the semi-circle of boys who didn't need very long to remember who he was. Between the hair and the goggles it was easy to distinguish him.

"My break was rough, and I'm not excited to be here at all," Naruto said, his blood beginning to pump a bit, "School sucks but you don't have to make people more miserable on the first day. Can't you wait until at least next week to be jackasses?"

The ones with a better survival instinct than the others took a step or two back after realizing who he was.

Well if anything good came from his whole ninja secret being spilled the school year before, it was that after busting Ragnarok apart and dealing with trained killers during school functions the idiot thugs in school all realized how ill-advised a fight with him and any of those seen as rank members of the so-called Shade Alliance would be.

School, or on the way to school, wasn't the place for fighting. It definitely made the experience more interesting altogether, but throwing down during school time always made Naruto feel like he was no better than the delinquents that had their run of the place until all of the Ragnarok and ninja things had begun to happen.

"Welcome back Naruto," Makoto said with a wry expression as Yuuka sighed in relief at the sight of someone that would actually help them. She was as timid as they came, and member of the Kendo Club or not, Makoto wasn't much of a fighter, so they would have been in trouble.

"S'up Mako-chan, Izumi," Naruto greeted the two girls turning his back on the surrounding crowd. Seeing an opening that Daimonji never would have thought any half-decent fighter would have given him, he grabbed the sword and swung at Naruto's head, only for Naruto to block it with his bare forearm. A solid crack echoed through the halls, but it wasn't from Naruto's bone, "I hope your break was better than mine."

Yuuka shivered timidly while Makoto's expression was a mixture of awe and humor at how casual he seemed. While yes, it was a fight, it also summed up what she knew of Naruto from interacting in school, "It's ending alright at least."

Daimonji wanted to flip out. He'd made the mistake twice now. First with Shirahama, and now with Uzumaki. And the thing was, he knew he should have known better!

"How can you even do that! I've got to be stronger than you head-on! Just look at me and look at you!" Sure, Kenichi might have beaten him up the year before in their second meeting, but that wasn't because the guy had been physically stronger… right? He just had good technique and great moves! Yes, that had been it! But Naruto, who was significantly smaller both in height and in body size, blocked a swing of a weapon with his bare hands without budging.

"Let me tell you something," Naruto said, grabbing onto the wooden sword, "Your kind of muscle just means there's more of you to hit," Naruto took a single step in Daimonji's direction and pushed back, shoving the butt of the bokken handle into his belly.

He might as well have punched him. It ended the exact same if not slightly condensed in effect. Spittle was driven from Daimonji's mouth as he was sent back through a few of his goons backing him up, sending them all into a wall separating property from the street across the road hard enough to crack it.

Cue the scattering of the masses, including Daimonji who crawled and scrambled away after finally finding his air and his legs underneath him. Naruto felt content at his control of his own strength. He didn't want to leave a roadside full of bodies or have to find a convenient dumpster to hide them in until they'd woken up. And since they were still outside, he wouldn't get in trouble for busting up that wall. It was a win-win.

Holding Makoto's wooden sword by the business end, Naruto turned around and held the handle out to her to take from him, "You probably could've beaten Daimonji if he was by himself you know, You're both like the same level, and you have a weapon and all. He's not good, or even tough really. He's just big."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence Naruto, and for the save," Makoto said with a gracious smile before scowling, "What was with that? Seriously, skirt-flipping? Touching and grouping up on girls? We're in school, not a train. Why would anyone even try that here?"

"Because 'numbers, testosterone, and boobs' Mako-chan," Naruto explained 'eloquently', getting a palm of the forehead from Makoto and a blush at his absolute bluntness from the extremely timid Yuuka, "I ain't a gentleman, but I like to think I evolved far enough past a monkey to ditch the alpha male crap."

…Well, that alpha male crap at least. He had more than his share of other flaws, but a bad pack mentality wasn't one of them.

"Well it's nice that there's a guardian ninja around," Makoto teased, bundling her bokken back up before leaving with Yuuka, "Make sure you're not late to the auditorium for the opening ceremony."

"Remember; you get one! Everybody gets one!" Naruto happily shouted after her down the hall, feeling he'd gotten his good deed for the day out of the way early. Thus, he could be forgiven karma-wise for being an absolute scoundrel for the rest of it if he so chose, "Now where are my jerk friends?"

Makoto turned back and stifled a giggle at the look on Naruto's face as he smacked himself and jumped onto the wall before heading the rest of the way to school in his own way. Turning her attention back to her closest friend, she noticed Yuuka holding her bag close to her chest and still shivering somewhat, "What's the matter?"

"I still think there's something scary about Uzumaki-san," Yuuka said quietly, "I can't tell you what it is, because I don't know, but..."

"Oh, Naruto's not so bad when you get to know him a bit," Makoto assured her for what seemed like the umpteenth time. And she'd definitely gotten to know Naruto a bit, constantly running interference to try and give Yuuka a chance to talk to Kenichi, "It's not fair to be afraid of him. He's never picked on anyone or pushed around anyone weaker than him. He's just a little mouthy."

She knew that her words didn't have the desired effect on her friend, which was a shame. If she was ever going to wind up with Kenichi the way she wanted, she would have to get used to Naruto because he was Kenichi's closest male friend.

Honestly, dealing with Naruto was extremely simple, and she didn't have to be some martial arts expert to deduce what others either hadn't been able to or chose not to enforce. If you didn't throw your weight around on others in front of him he was as nice as they came. Picking on others in front of Naruto was a far greater sin than picking on him. He had a gravely skewed sense of self-preservation.

As they reached the end of the block they looked up at a person standing on the corner, having observed the run-in from moments before. He was actually shorter in height than Naruto by an inch or so and fairly unassuming-looking. He had curly light hair and an expressive, confident kind of grin on his face, wearing a dark leather jacket zipped up to his chest.

His eyes still seemed to be locked on the location down the road where Naruto had caused the local punks to scatter.

"That's a pretty interesting guy," The smiling boy said, "That's the ninja right? The one from the school nearby," To say that he seemed intrigued was an understatement, but then again it wasn't unheard of. Most of the people in school felt somewhat amazed on the rare occasions where they saw Naruto do something since he stopped keeping things under wraps.

Makoto smiled back at him, but felt that something was off. She'd never seen him before so she figured that he was just someone fresh to the area that had been caught off-guard from watching Naruto make his way to the rooftops, "Most people in high school around here know his name by now," Name and antics, but not much else, "-So you must be new."

"Yeah," The young man said with a short laugh, "I wonder, he's a ninja but he didn't really use a weapon on those guys other than…" He trailed off, indicating Makoto's bokken that his eyes lingered on for a bit longer than a moment, "Ahh, I'm pretty sure I'll get to ask him myself soon enough."

"So you're going to our school?"

"I'm transferring in today. A few people are actually," The teenager admitted with a bright smile, "The name's Hyougo."

XxX

(Elsewhere in Town – Shikamaru & Tenten's High School)

School wasn't so bad for Shikamaru. Yes, it was boring, but then again he found everything boring, and the things he didn't find boring he found too wearisome to take part in.

It was better than being a home though, where he'd either be training or going on missions at Jiraiya's command. For some reason the man had such a problem with the idea of him doing nothing. At least when school was in session he could use the excuse of doing homework. Hey, maybe getting into a school club would keep him from having to go home and do ninja things? He'd start his own club! A Nap Club!

No, too much paperwork, and then a teacher would have to sponsor it, and then he'd have to get more members which would be a completely different set of issues.

With a sigh at his failed idea, Shikamaru perked up slightly, noticing a face in the hall he'd never seen before. He stood directly in Shikamaru's path, facing him, but Shikamaru shuffled his feet subtly and slipped right by him, but not without hearing a message.

"I've come to give you a warning," The shady individual said even as Shikamaru ghosted past his attempt to brick wall him, "You should give up being a member of that Shade Alliance and join YOMI, otherwise you might get yourself killed."

Now if he had told Shikamaru to simply quit the Shade Alliance and left it at that, he might have had a case to keep his attention. Any excuse Shikamaru could get to isolate himself from a group that he knew would do nothing but bring him trouble, and he would have more than likely taken it.

But the stipulation also including joining YOMI, and he really didn't want to do that. Mostly because he'd be expected to do things, and they would hand him over to a master who would also expect him to do his best, otherwise they would kill him.

The silver lining about being associated with the Shade Alliance; he was Proxy General, which meant as long as Niijima was active, no one expected jack from him. It was beautiful. Too beautiful to be spooked out of sticking with.

"No idea what you're talking about," Shikamaru said, pulling his hand from his pocket to wave the person off from over his back, "You've got the wrong guy."

Apparently disassociation wasn't what the guy wanted to hear from him. Shikamaru might have been lazy, but he wasn't attentive, and he knew the sound of sharp metal being pulled from a scabbard, even when it was quick, even when it was short.

Shikamaru didn't turn around, even in the face of the charge coming at his back. With a sharp downward yank of his waving arm, and the placement of his hard-to-see ninja wire, he brought down a light fixture from above down on top of his attacker's head. Hapless students stood back in shock and horror at the blood pooling from the person underneath. Clearly the heavy metal fixture and the broken glass weren't gentle on the head of a human being, and Shikamaru hadn't been necessarily gentle with his tug either.

"Oh my God! What happened!?"

The panicky chatter began immediately. Teachers spilled out of their classrooms into the hallway and students scattered to give them room, "Someone call an ambulance!"

Shikamaru took that time to slip away unnoticed, "Somebody should really tighten those light fixtures," He said dully, trying to at least give a pitiful effort to make it seem like what had happened had been an accident, just in case anyone with martial arts skill happened to have been watching, 'Great. Troublesome damn Shade Alliance…'

That guy might have been strong… maybe. But Shikamaru wouldn't ever know, nor did he necessarily care.

If they were there and knew to look for him, they were definitely aware of exactly where Naruto spent his days.

"Does that guy have a knife on him!? It's too big isn't it?"

-And that guy had a weapon. People with weapons never came after them. Great. YOMI had a side with weapon users to boot, because the unarmed fighters out to make names for themselves wasn't enough.

Rounding a corner and heading down a flight of stairs, Shikamaru met a grinning Tenten on the landing, "I saw that. You're such an ass."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes as the girl fell into step with him. They definitely weren't staying in school any longer that day if they didn't have to. Not after what had just happened, "Did he say anything to you too?" The level-headed wire-user asked.

Yeah. I didn't say anything to him before he left though," Tenten admitted. The guy had only given her a deadline, "I was about to put one between the guy's eyes when he tried to pull his blade on you, but you handled it well enough," He stopped the guy in one passive move and kept the secret of how he fought. That registered as a fine performance as far as she could see.

"Gee, thanks."

The first day of the new school year was certainly starting off in an in-their-face manner.

XxX

(Kouryou High School)

Walking through the halls on the way back from gym class, Naruto stopped when he heard his phone go off. Upon picking it up he was met with a text from Shikamaru. How odd. Shikamaru never initiated any sort of phone contact. Ever.

Yomi came 2 my school

Well that was no good.

Naruto frowned and quickly punched in a response.

D'ya kick their ass?

It took several seconds, but given what was typed back to him, it was rather quick.

Troublesome

Did he actually take the time to not only correctly type 'troublesome', but also put in the ellipsis beforehand to get his mood across? But then again Shikamaru's fingers and hands were probably so fast he barely registered the effort.

And what did that even mean? Was that a yes, or a no?

Figuring that this would only be the sort of conversation that would be annoying if it wasn't held via actual human conversation, Naruto cleared out to the roof of the school and prepared to make the call before stopping and hurling the phone at a ki that he was adept enough to spot and realize that he'd managed to isolate from the crowd of students.

It had stood out to begin with, even when it had been concealed. It felt… sharper than a regular person's.

Naruto found his phone cut in half before it could strike the face of a young man with curly white hair. Despite being for all intents and purposes attacked, he had an easygoing smile on his face.

"Did Pigeon-boy send me another bitch to slap?" Naruto asked, turning around all the way to face whom he had quite clearly picked out as a member of YOMI. If it had been a ninja, throwing the phone would have kicked a battle off, "You'd think he'd come and do it himself by now."

If he was offended at being addressed in such a crass manner, it didn't show, "Afraid not. The name's Hyougo, and Suparna didn't send me. The armed division and the unarmed fighters don't really get along, catch my drift?"

"Figures," Naruto said with a bit of a grin, "But if you don't want to kill Ryouzanpaku's Strongest Disciple-."

"We sort of do."

The lack of sense that statement made left Naruto's jaw somewhat slackened, "Why?" The others he'd met from YOMI he could sort of understand, but the guy had just said that the armed and unarmed divisions didn't get along. So why would they have wanted a piece? "Kenichi doesn't even use weapons."

"But you do." Hyougo pointed out, "And you're trained by a woman that my master says knows the secrets of steel. The woman who could become the greatest master of weaponry in the world. Ryouzanpaku's Kousaka Shigure."

So was this an attempt, or a warning?

Either way, he was alone, and if Naruto just so happened to put him down… well, out of sight, out of mind and all of that. So the only question left was if he should flat-out rush him or go for a weapon. If he rushed him, he was pretty sure he'd have the speed advantage, but he'd be charging an armed enemy without a weapon. If he took the time to go for a weapon he'd give Hyougo the initiative.

Decisions, decisions. Would his impetuous desire to kick ass override his hard-earned common sense when it came to weapons?

"I've been watching you all day," Hyougo said, holding up the kodachi that he'd used to slice Naruto's phone out of the air, more or less signifying that he was prepared for either option, "Why didn't you use any weapons on those guys you fought outside? The ones harassing those girls."

…Because he didn't feel like it? Because the time it would have taken him to draw a weapon to use could have been spent solving the problem in the exact same way? Because he didn't want to risk going to jail by pulling a deadly weapon on a bunch of high school kids that already knew he was a ninja? Any of those choices seemed like proper ones.

"You see, there are a bunch of us who've heard of you and want to take you out," Hyougo continued, "Shirahama as well, but the weapon disciples really don't like you."

"Join the club," Naruto laughed at his own joke, because technically there already was a club. Two or three of them as a matter of fact.

"You've got the greatest master any Katsujinken like you could ever hope for, and when it comes to using weapons you don't take any pride in it," Hyougo said, showing the hand of his own distaste with Naruto, "You might have the Katsujinken weapons master of Ryouzanpaku; the strongest dojo. So guess what that makes you."

Naruto furrowed his brow in thought, trying to put together everything he'd just heard, especially because it seemed Hyougo was trying to lead him into something, "The… strongest… weapons disciple?" Hyougo nodded and Naruto's face lit up as if he'd won a prize, and that prize? More people trying to kill him. That was when it set in, "…Oh crap."

"Yep," Hyougo said, bidding Naruto farewell with a wave over his shoulder as he went back downstairs off of the roof, "So let's find out just how great the disciple of the 'Prodigy of Swords and Weapons' is when he won't even pick up any of 'em himself."

What Naruto thought about being taught by Shigure was his business and was between just the two of them. And from the way this kid was talking, because he had already (intelligently) conditioned himself to not carry his weapons out in the open he didn't take any pride in it, or her? The thought almost literally made him start seeing red.

Of course, he liked it there at that school, and if he wound up throwing Hyougo off of the roof hanging from his neck by a weighted steel chain he was pretty sure they wouldn't let him come back.

"Alright, if it means that much to you jerks I'll tell you what. Spread the word. Anytime you want, send me anyone you like," Naruto said, tapping his foot irritably, trying to at least get the last word in as Hyougo continued to descend the stairs, "Just don't send me anybody you actually want back."

Hyougo froze, with the only thing visible from Naruto's perspective the top of his curly hair, "You know what? I like that-," He stopped from continuing further when he no longer saw Naruto on the roof. He hadn't even cared about what else he had to say, "Well that's rude."

XxX

The middle of the day was an extremely lonely time to sit around in a drinking establishment. Very rarely did you find anyone there that was any sort of life of the party. People who drank during the day didn't do it because it was fun. They were doing it to escape or to cope.

Normally Tsunade was professional enough to save her drinking until the evening, after she had closed down her clinic. But today the place was closed, so being professional wasn't an issue.

Looking down at her own murky reflection inside of the glass, Tsunade swished the spirits around before taking a deep sip.

"Buy the lady a drink?" Tsunade had her fist clenched to put whoever was trying to pick up on her in a bar during the daytime through a wall until she realized that she knew the voice. "Drinking during the day Tsunade?" No wonder he was able to get that close to her before she realized it. Even drunk she was more attentive than 90% of people.

"It's my day off, and I'm barely buzzed," The retired kunoichi said, setting her blonde pigtails behind her shoulders as she sat at her table by herself. With apparent company in Jiraiya, she sat herself up straighter, elbows set on the table, "So, you were saying that your brat had to deal with another round of Konoha's finest?"

Jiraiya sat down and nodded, "A real creepy bunch apparently. They probably would have gotten him if it wasn't for some dumb luck and the fact that they triggered it."

"It?"

"Jinchuuriki Project."

Tsunade could have sworn she'd felt herself sober up upon mention of the project. It was a very risky method for forcefully unlocking a ninja's ki before they were consciously aware of how to use it and it required several other experienced and powerful ki users in order to even trigger it.

And Naruto was one of them? There hadn't been that many, because actual successes with the project numbered in the single digits. The same went for those that even survived it in the first place, "They did that to him?"

"They did that to him," Jiraiya confirmed, taking another drink and letting out a mirthless chuckle, "This certainly makes things a bit different."

"How so?"

Jiraiya gave her a look that specified that she had better know full well why things were now different, "The last person they used the ritual on that was Dou-based, do you remember that?" The far-off look that came over the woman's eyes proved that she did, "Do you remember how long it took him to gain enough control to be safe in the field? I'm amazed that with nobody to help him develop Naruto only snapped twice."

"Twice?" Tsunade's tone was curious "Your boy's done it before that tournament?"

"That's his story to tell. He trusted me enough to tell me, and he takes it pretty hard," Jiraiya wasn't about to go around spilling any of Naruto's business that he didn't have to, "If you want to know about it, cozy up to him and get him to tell you himself. Although he'll probably wind up telling your cutie of a student before he tells you. Maybe. As long as she's not too much like you."

She ignored the reference of Sakura being like her being a bad thing, as she didn't want to spill any of her alcohol. It was prime stuff, "Why?"

"Honestly? Testosterone and boobs. You're a doctor, you should know this," The grizzled ninja veteran said bluntly before grinning, "Also, You scare the hell out of him, so he isn't going to you for the latter despite your talents in that category."

Huh. She had wondered why Jiraiya's brat had been so easy around Sakura, "So he's like you after all," Well if he was a dog, or got handsy, she'd probably know about it because Sakura would have no problems belting him one, "I should have figured."

"Not really," Jiraiya said, thinking of all of the times he'd tried to finish the 'corruption' of Naruto and had failed, "But he's seventeen years old. If you put it in front of him, he's gonna look," It was in front of him, all over the place, every day. And yes, he did look. Jiraiya was actually proud of the company of the opposite sex that Naruto seemed to keep.

Tsunade grumbled at her old friend's reasoning and they settled into a comfortable silence as the daytime staff wandered around the establishment, making sure the few customers who were there were tended to, and that things would be ready for the busier shift later.

A worker from the bar set down a fresh glass of what Tsunade had been drinking and she idly picked it up as the man passed her by to continue on to continue working. Behind the man's back, Tsunade dumped the drink onto the floor and quicker than anyone could have reacted she had grabbed the man by the back of the head and slammed him through the front wall of the bar out onto the street.

Jiraiya simply remained seated at the table with a content smile on his face as he prepared to enjoy a meal on his day out, "Can I get a menu to see what you have to eat and drink?" He asked a nearby waitress. "Oh, don't worry about that. She'll pay for it. She has doctor money."

If anything, Jiraiya was surprised that Tsunade's action had only put a single hole the size of two people through the wall. She was willing to hold more back now than she used to be when she was an active ninja where the discretion would have served her better.

When it came to hand-to-hand combat, Tsunade hadn't focused on any particular aspect of tajutsu. With her gifts and hard-earned physical strength, she had mastered enough in each of the styles to guarantee unbeatable skill of one particular thing she had chosen to focus on; making contact with her target. Even a short tap from her was enough to kill an untrained, regular person.

For the record, that had been a tap.

Outside, Tsunade dragged her target out of the road by his neck and dropped him on the sidewalk before dropping her knee on his sternum and grabbing him by his hair. He was fairly young, no older than twenty-five, and had spiky black hair that made a good handhold for grabbing onto.

"You've been working here for four months," Tsunade said casually, as if she were talking about the weather and wasn't hovering over a heavily injured human being, "You know, I almost wouldn't have picked up on you being a ninja, until you tried to slip poison into one of my freebies. If you want to kill me, pick a better way."

"It's not fast-acting. I wasn't trying to kill you," The ninja said, straining due to the knee digging deep into his chest. There was no reason to hide anything now. She knew where he was from and what he'd tried to do. Clarifying what the point of it all was would only keep an unfortunate attempt to retaliate from occurring, "We… we would have given you the antidote in exchange for killing Jiraiya."

So it was good old-fashioned blackmail and outsourcing.

"And you want me to kill a jounin that should be a Kage because, why exactly?" Tsunade asked, now gripping the young man's jaw, her fist poised to render the young man's brain into paste, "In case you haven't received the memo, I retired years ago. If you all have a mess you need cleaned up, you can do it yourselves," Aside from the fact that Jiraiya was one of theirs and still ran missions for Konoha.

It wasn't a bad idea though. No one they could send short of someone on Jiraiya's level could actually kill him, and anyone that talented was likely booked up with a backlog of more lucrative work for the clan. If anyone could get an assassination attempt in on someone like Jiraiya without him being prepared for it, it would be someone close to him like Tsunade.

The ninja's plan had been sound in theory, but he lacked the ability and resources needed to execute the most important part. It was of no fault of his that he could control. He'd gotten the poison to her, it was just the type that she knew how to find the signs of.

Poor, unfortunate chunin. Too much, too soon.

Konoha had to have sent a chunin for the job, because it was the only rank that would have made sense. A genin would have been too easy a giveaway and far too green for something like that, and any jounin would have been made in a second. Jiraiya was fully in the know in Konoha, and he was aware of the identities of every existing jounin in the clan's service.

While a chunin wouldn't have been a match for either of them in a hundred years, they had enough know-how on the job to avoid the actual danger of fighting and didn't have the notoriety where they would be identified on sight the way a jounin would have, despite the fact that a jounin may have had a better chance of an under-the-table assassination.

Squirming under Tsunade's knee and feeling her grip on his jaw tightening to teeth-cracking levels, the ninja knew that if he said nothing and let her torture him past the limit his body could take, this woman could keep him alive and let him recover enough to do it as many times as she needed to, "They said Jiraiya is trying to harness one of Konoha's failed experiments to use against them."

Ah. Kill Jiraiya, and Naruto would have no one to teach him enough about ninja procedure to help him grow. If that happened, they could send as many genin as they wanted after him, because eventually one would be talented enough to get the job done and kill him if he didn't progress in skill.

It was a way to skirt Jiraiya's warning without really doing it. But that opened up a completely separate host of questions.

Tsunade narrowed her brown eyes on the man underneath her, "I don't suppose you know which Kage signed off on this mission for you, do you?" He let out an anguished grunt of 'no', "Too low on the totem pole I see," With that, Tsunade quickly pushed his head down, slamming the back of it into the concrete to render him unconscious.

…Maybe. She might have hurt him worse.

She did have a bit of a lingering grudge against her old organization after all.

XxX

(One Hour Later – Naruto's House)

Naruto had immediately cut out from school after the introduction to a brand new problem in the form of weapons disciples, because that was assuredly going to be a boatload of fun for everyone to deal with. What did he ever do to deserve any of that?

Other than the at times unbearable nature of his ego, his shameless calling-out of every single person out and about that did, could, and ever would want to take a shot at him, and the fact that he'd blinded a girl with his bare hands in a blood rage when he was twelve years old.

Yeah, in hindsight he sort of had it coming to be hunted down for literal sport. But even if he did openly relish the challenge and the prospect of gloating in victory that would invariably come with it in his own mind, that didn't mean he had to enjoy the hardship it was going to cause beforehand!

For once, Naruto was hoping that Jiraiya was there when he returned home early. Sure, the man would complain and lecture him for all of thirty seconds about skipping school, but then he'd immediately determine what Naruto's next course of action for learning would be.

"Yo, Ero-sennin! You home?" Naruto said upon reentering his house, only to hear skittering as if a jumpy animal had somehow made it into his house. Peering out from behind the coping of the kitchen doorway was the unmistakable top half of Kenichi's head.

Wait. If no one else was home, how'd he even get in? And did he set off any of the traps out front?

Naruto kicked off his shoes and dropped his bag with a heavy thud at the door, "Why the hell are you here and not back at school?" Skipping was fine for him. He was a scoundrel. Kenichi was more of the upstanding type though.

"YOMI came to our school."

And he decided to leave them there with no one to check whatever they had planned? "…So your idea was to come to my house?"

Discretion was the better part of valor in this case, "No one knows where your house is."

"…"

"…"

"…Did you at least take back roads, or did you run straight here?" When Kenchi went wide-eyed and stared at him owlishly, Naruto palmed his forehead. Did Kenichi understand just how hard he, Shikamaru, and Tenten worked to make sure people couldn't find their house? It was a tactical advantage, "Kenichi, I swear to God, if any of them actually finds out where my house is because of you I'm gonna-."

Kenichi just laughed nervously. He felt confident that he'd been running so fast he'd have lost anyone that would have given a damn enough to follow him anyway.

With that moment done, Kenichi's mood sobered significantly, "There were four of them today. You skipped the opening ceremony when the principal introduced them. The two twins from the tournament, some soldier guy named Boris, and this one guy; Tirawit Kokin," Kokin gave him a bad feeling. Worse than the others.

"No Pigeon-boy though?"

"No, he wasn't there."

That figured. Shou Kanou probably felt that going to public school comparable to some sort of stupid insect-bird comparison of some sort. A guy like that had probably already been home-educated, which was way more likely for the chosen one.

Naruto got up and paced around his kitchen before going to the refrigerator and throwing Kenichi a bottle of water that he gratefully accepted. After all of that running and yelling he'd done on the way there his throat was parched.

The blond missing-nin let Kenichi get a good mouthful before speaking again, "Yeah, there's more than that. At least one more. And he's got weapons on him," A mischievous grin crossed his face at the sight of the water forcefully gushing out of Kenichi's mouth, "You should clean that up before Tenten gets home or she'll bitch you out."

"There's more!?" Kenichi exclaimed in shock.

Naruto held up one finger for emphasis, "One more. I think. I only ran into one."

"And he's definitely YOMI?"

"He sure felt like it. Said he was from the armed division."

"They have that?"

A solid nod came from Naruto who remembered his run-in with the weapons division from YOMI's parent organization Yami. The kid that had been with them that time hadn't been worth thinking of twice, but with Hyougo came the impression that the big guns were about to start coming out.

So to sum it all up; ninjas, unarmed martial artists, and armed martial artists. All three groups in certain areas wanted to stomp and/or cut Naruto up. Kenichi as well to a greater or lesser degree depending on who was being considered.

Naruto grabbed a carton of orange juice out of the refrigerator and downed what was left of its contents in one go before wiping his mouth and heading into the hall to open the hidden door that led down to his family's ninja dojo and armory, "Alright, come on. We're wasting time, right?"

Kenichi perked up like a dog at what he knew Naruto was implying, "Training? Now?" He had to head back to Ryouzanpaku, but that was after school and after Gardening Club. He'd left before lunch had ever even happened though, so technically he didn't have to return for at least four more hours. Plenty of time to get in some work, "Just us? Are you sure?"

The two of them were the exact same age but as far as Kenichi was concerned Naruto came off at times as something of a big brother as far as the whole mortal combat aspect of their lives went. He accepted the prospect of people trying to kill them effortlessly in comparison.

"Yeah, I totally need to test the new stuff Shigure taught me on somebody."

And just like that, it was gone.

"Wait, what? Naruto-san!"

"What? It's just practice!"

XxX

(Yokohama – Chinatown)

A tall man wearing a black Chinese shirt and Kung Fu pants and dark hair done in a single braid going down his back walked down the street, despite the complete lack of any tell in his eyes from behind his dark round sunglasses. The cool and calm air about him somehow dissuaded anyone from coming near him or his young ward.

Next to him, an extensively grumpier young man with a long black ponytail and a white copy of his master's clothes walked with him, "Master Ro, what are we doing here? I should be preparing to face Shirahama."

"You refused to enter school with the rest of the One Shadow Nine Fists' disciples Chou," Ro Jisei explained calmly, "That puts you at the back of the line as far as challengers against the Strongest Disciple. You did it to yourself."

"I don't have time to waste in a place like that," Chou said, "When the time comes for Ma Sougetsu's damned disciple to come and take my position, I'll take his head instead," It was just that such a thing would have been infinitely sweeter if he could have had the accolade of destroying Ryouzanpaku's disciple before showing the fool who would replace him just how overmatched he was.

Ro lectured his student as they walked the streets of Yokohama Chinatown, "Don't underestimate any martial artists of the Kensei family. That lineage is particularly gifted with their Kung Fu, and those taught by them are taught by the best."

Coming from a background comparable to Ma Kensei and Sougetsu, he was very well aware and respecting of their hard-earned talents. They had been peers long ago as they had been coming up in the world of martial arts.

"Feh," Chou spat in return, "They have the biggest name in Chinese Kenpo, and why? Ma Kensei is a feckless pervert and the disciple of his brother was crushed by Shirahama even after observing him and preparing to fight him for months."

"Be that as it may," Ro said, "There's a reason why criminal operations in this particular Chinatown are kept to such a controlled level, and it has little to do with any kind of police presence here."

The young man with the epithet of 'Pure Dragon' rolled his eyes, having known the reason why. It was a pretty feckless reason to keep oneself from displaying their power, "Because of Ma Ryou and those taught by him who protect this place. So if the gangsters here are tied up by the Katsujinken fighters, what good are they to Yami?"

"Their ability to smuggle things in and out of the country are of great use to us," Ro divulged, attempting to teach his disciple as they went along, "But these sorts of people are more show than tell sorts. They'll need a demonstration if they are to work with us without much difficulty. Fortunately that same show can be taken care of by ridding us of an opponent at the same time, and our target isn't very difficult to find."

Chou clenched his fists in anticipation. If nothing else, this would be just another test for him as a rightful member of YOMI. It seemed like the only thing that ever came from his membership was more tests.

"Yes master."

XxX

(Some Time Later – Ryouzanpaku Dojo)

One would normally figure that with an organization of highly trained, highly skilled killer martial artists gunning for the students of a particular dojo, the masters of said dojo would be elbow-deep in preparation, making sure that no matter what came their way they would have the tools to overcome it.

Of course, when one of those students (who insisted that it was impossible for him to actually be a disciple despite his paying dues and being counted amongst those who must die by aforementioned enemies of the dojo) had lapses into belligerent rapscallion-ism on a regular basis, sometimes it was that much more difficult to get productive things done.

"Old man, go and see her," Naruto said, actually willing to get into the face of one of Ryouzanpaku vaunted masters and literally butt heads, "I'm so not joking about this, 'ttebayo!"

Today Naruto was particularly filled with his share of piss and vinegar, and the target of his vitriol was within the hallowed walls of the ultra-powerful dojo. Setting aside the fact that any one of the adults present could turn him into a ragdoll within minutes, but that prospect had rarely stopped him before, and in this case he was righteously motivated.

"No!" Kensei said, shoving back against Naruto's forehead with his own, "Don't you understand what's going to happen when that daughter of mine actually catches sight of me!?"

"She already knows you're here! She just doesn't know where 'here' is!" Naruto threw back at him, "I'm the only reason she hasn't kicked the gate down and dragged your sorry ass back to China yet, and now I'm kinda thinkin' I shouldn't have covered for you if this is how you are! So I'm telling you, GO SEE RENKA!" He yelled, loud enough to rattle the rice-paper doors.

Miu was quick to chime in supportively, "You tell him Naruto-kun!" She was not a fan of the whole runaway dad angle and hadn't been after she'd found out why Renka had even come to Japan in the first place.

Kenichi sat off to the side, enjoying his temporary break between training sessions. Naruto had stomped in with them afterschool and had blazed through Shigure's lessons for the day before making a beeline for Kensei, snatching the nudie magazine out of his hand and laying into him, which then evolved into what they had before them.

The boy with the band-aid on his cheek seemed to be at a loss, as Naruto had a point no matter how intense the verbal exchange was getting, "Should we be trying to stop this?"

Akisame sat in seiza, intriguingly observing the test of wills and wits, "Why? Naruto-kun actually seems to be getting the better of the debate," Calling it a debate was far too generous for the glorified shouting contest that it was.

"Is he winning?" Kenichi asked earnestly, "I just thought he was yelling louder and waving his arms around more."

Akisame's reasoning was sound enough for his tastes, "Just like in street fighting, there are no rules or regulations in street debate."

"Why doesn't anyone here have control of their disciple?" As Kensei turned to the sole female master of the dojo to emphasize his point with her in particular, he found her playing cards with Apachai, pretending to ignore him altogether, "Don't act like you're not paying attention!"

Shigure did not heed him.

"You can either do it on your own terms where she can't follow you home, or you can do it where I tell her right where the dojo is," Naruto said, his arms crossed and his stance on the matter fully lain out, "And you won't know when, so you can't hide either. I'll walk her right in myself actually."

The undisputed master of all Chinese Kenpo seemed to be approaching tears, clutching at Naruto's pant legs, "Why would you do that to me?"

"One, because it'd be funny," Naruto explained, causing Kensei to lurch forward as if an invisible arrow had stricken him in the back.

"Agreed," Sakaki said, getting nods from Shigure, Apachai, and Akisame who were watching from the sidelines with Kenichi and Miu.

Naruto continued counting on his fingers as he listed off reasons, "Two, because I never got you back for all of the times you whupped my ass," Two more arrow struck the back of his knees, "By the way, everybody else here still has something else coming just as soon as something drops in my lap."

This, Sakaki could not cosign to, "Oi! What the fuck did I do to you, you dunce?"

"You kicked me through a goddamn wall!"

"…I meant other than that!"

Naruto ignored him before getting sucked into an argument with the wrong person and carried on, "And three, because the whole absentee parent thing really pisses me off for some reason," With that final barrage of overwhelming guilt hitting him, he collapsed to the floor, "I mean, my parents ain't exactly around to begin with, but if I knew my dad would rather hang out at a dojo with his buddies than stay at home and help my mom raise me I'd probably-."

"Alright, alright, you win," Kensei said, weakly pushing his face up off of the ground before making one last move, "But you have to go with me."

A grin more gleeful than should have formed on Naruto's face took shape at the mention of such a thing, "I really don't."

"I'll give you anything you want."

The amusement at the predicament he had a master set up for never vanished from Naruto's face, "You don't have anything I want," Kensei whispered in Naruto's ear, causing his face to slowly change into a look of disbelief. A quick flash of a yellow and red card from his pocket confirmed whatever he'd told the boy, "…On second thought, I'm sort of blackmailing you already, so I'm in."

Miu's eyes didn't miss the elements of what had been on the card that had changed Naruto's stance, "…Did you really just agree for a 'Go Ramen' card?"

Kenichi almost fell over from where he'd been sitting, "Naruto-san, really?"

"It's got like 10,000 yen on it!" Naruto whined, "That's like a few months of meals if I don't straight up kill it right off the bat," But he would, and he knew he would the moment he got his hands on it.

Shigure turned her head around to stare at Naruto for a second before returning to her card game with Apachai, "Soooo disa…ppointed."

All Naruto could muster was a slump to his shoulders in return. Everyone had their Achilles Heel. One of his just so happened to be sweet, delicious, comforting ramen.

His gambit revealed, Kensei smirked and pulled out the card that he held just out of Naruto's grasp as the young man tried to snatch it from him, "I started stockpiling meals on it over time after Sakaki took him on their little life-changing field trip," The wily master revealed, "I figured it'd come in handy for something like this eventually," At best, it really only helped him break even.

He still had to go see Renka and deal with that wrath, but at least Naruto was around to distract her long enough to potentially ditch the kid in Chinatown. He knew his way home. He'd be fine.

The second blonde in the room then reasserted her presence with a question that was 100% rhetorical, "So you had the extra money to build up ten-thousand into a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card to use on Naruto-kun, but we're trying to find two yen to rub together to keep the dojo out of bankruptcy?"

Kensei felt an intense sense of dread from Miu, as the dojo elder's lovely granddaughter seemed to be slowly walking toward him with her fists clenched, "Naruto-boy, I'll give you this card if we leave right now."

The reasons not to go were dwindling. Company aside, there was the chance of being out so late that he could skip school the next day, as well as the fact that he loved Chinatown and would be compensated for his time. The pull was too strong to ignore.

"If we can stop at Go Ramen on the way to the station I'll hold her off for five seconds."

The unspoken question that followed was; would Naruto run interference for a guilty party and risk taking a punch that someone else deserved for free ramen?

The answer that quickly followed was a resounding yes. Yes he would.

XxX

(Hidden Location – Hidden Base)

Entering the off-the-map stronghold that Yami used to house their disciples while they were in the area, Ryuuto was shadowed by the eternally bouncy fellow disciple of Isshinsai Ogata, Rimi. As the only one of them that had actually been exposed to that area before, Ryuuto had something of an overseeing position amongst the disciples of the One Shadow Nine Fists.

The first thing that caught his eye as he made his way into the main chamber was the sight of a muscular young man in full grey military fatigues, elbow pads, knee pads, and heavy boots, punching away at a heavy bag, a sharp focus in his eyes. He had unkempt silver hair and a thin headband around his forehead.

"Boris," Ryuuto greeted, receiving a curt nod from the person in question before he went right back to his previously scheduled workout, "I didn't expect for you to actually be the type to go along with trying to fit in at a school."

"My master's orders are absolute."

Ryuuto accepted the rather bland answer, but understood regardless. If nothing else, Boris was exceptionally disciplined when aware that there was someone around in charge of him. He then noticed Rimi looking around as if she were searching for something, "What's the matter?"

"Rimi doesn't think this is everybody," The darkly-dressed girl said, squinting her eyes at the sight of everyone present. She counted Rachel, Ethan, Boris, Chikage, and another young man with dark skin, blond hair, blank, dark eyes wearing casual dress clothes, "…Are there some people missing?"

"Kajima is with the One Shadow, Chou chose another activity, and Suparna isn't reported to this base," The young soldier said as he continued to relentlessly pummel the reinforced bag, "'God Hand' says he won't be with us."

"Suparna isn't here with you?" Rimi asked, "But why? If he's the leader, shouldn't he be… leading the way?" She said, knowing that it had been put in lame terms, "Rimi doesn't know."

Ryuuto sighed and turned the dark-skinned youth with them, "Kokin. You were the last of us other than Kajima to see or hear anything. Do you know what's going on?"

"Suparna couldn't be bothered to join us in school," Kokin said, in the midst of playing a game of 'Go' with the youngest disciple amongst them in Chikage, "It's his loss. There isn't a better way to scout every one of Shirahama's weaknesses than watching him in a place like that. Mundane environments have a habit of exposing the kind of person you really are."

Enshin Chou insisted that he didn't need to waste time in school that he could spend trying to improve, but he was strengthening himself blindly. By training without knowing what kind of person or fighter Shirahama Kenichi was, he could be improving himself at an aspect of fighting that wouldn't even come into play in their battle.

All because the fool felt he had something to prove. That chip on his shoulder was going to get him nowhere if he kept it for too long.

When Kokin had his chance, he would have analyzed every one of his enemy's faults and deficiencies. Every base would be covered. There would have been no chance of failure.

"I don't know why," Kokin continued, "To be honest, I don't particularly care either. He seems to be sidetracked with other issues," At least that was how it seemed from his last analysis, and Kokin was never wrong in any analysis he made on a person.

Ryuuto found himself intrigued and amused at the implication that Kokin was unknowingly implying when it came to Shou, "Suparna may be cracking I'm afraid," Apparently he wasn't so perfect after all. Physically, he was perfect, but mentally, was he really tough? It didn't seem that he was if this could happen, "Telling him the truth of his circumstances did exactly what Kajima thought it would I guess."

Apparently the next time they met, Ryuuto would owe Kajima a meal. He just so happened to win that little wager between them.

"What was it?" Rachel asked, almost putting herself in Ryuuto's lap, and she would have had Rimi not edged into attack dog position in case she got within intimate range, "What did Kajima say?"

"It's not exactly something I myself can share," Ryuuto said, putting a hand on Rimi to calm her from doing something rash against their fellow members of YOMI, "Only three disciples really have any business knowing about it. And it doesn't really affect anyone in any way. Even him."

And yet it did affect him.

Kanou Shou was having an identity crisis. For as long as Shou could probably remember, his sole purpose for existing had been to become the greatest martial artist in history. That was why he had been bred and handpicked by Yami. He had nothing else in life to strive for, and knew nothing else but martial arts.

To find out that you weren't even the first choice for the only reason you were alive. On second thought, it was chilling to think of. Even if Shou wasn't weak of mind, that would be enough to cause anyone to crack. Anyone with any sort of drive and dedication, and to be a powerful martial artist you had to have that.

Kajima might have actually broken him.

The bespectacled, purple-haired fighter held back a snort of laughter at the thought of someone who was able to obtain power so easily, who was basically handed it, being broken with a handful of truths. It was a malicious way to react to such a thing, but despite being in the same group, they weren't teammates or comrades. In all actuality, they were each racing to see who killed Kenichi first.

And if Shou was honestly as affected by being told he was second choice to YOMI's third choice of Ryouzanpaku's disciples to target in Naruto, he was going to take himself out of that race just to settle a score that the target didn't even know existed in the first place.

It really was funny to think about. And if he lost, and by some miracle Naruto didn't wind up killing him in the ensuing battle, what would Shou be left with then as far as his psyche would go? Even if Naruto didn't outright kill him, his spirit as a martial artist would be dead.

He was honestly rooting for Naruto in the case of that encounter ever taking place. The outcome if nothing else would serve to be something of interest.

Either way. That meant that the road was wide open for him to get his opportunity against Kenichi. No one would complain if he took the chance of Shou mentally dropping the ball to take on Ryouzanpaku's chief disciple first. The two of them had some history to work out anyway.

The doors to the hall swung open one more time, this time heralding the entry of one of Yami's top masters. Clad in white, Ogata's bare feet padded off of the stone floor, his ever-present smile on his face as Berserker followed behind.

"Are you all playing nice now?" Ogata asked as he looked over the amassed YOMI disciples in town, "And how are you enjoying normal Japanese high school so far?"

He didn't expect an answer from Boris or from Ethan, but Rachel's exuberance for her current situation more than made up for it, "None of them can keep their eyes off of me," Mostly because she was hot and kept mugging for attention from anyone who would look at her, especially men, "That school is an easy place to take the spotlight."

The girl's mindset was single-mindedly set on one thing, but that was fine because she was willing to go all out and fight for that one thing. And she was good at it.

Ogata regarded her with a smile before providing them some new information, "Well, I've come to tell you that the armed division will be sending a few of their disciples as well. Apparently they have a target of their own in Ryouzanpaku."

"So they want to attack the Strongest Disciple as well?"

"No, they want the other one," Ogata corrected Rachel carelessly.

"Fuurinji?"

Ogata's eye twitched underneath his hood at his need to further specify what he felt should have been obvious, "No, the other one. The one that actually uses weapons."

"What other-? Oh. The ninja boy," Rachel finally said, blinking after remembering that she did recall a third person on the Ryouzanpaku team at the D of D Tournament, "He's barky and he's got showoff tendencies, but he's not the kind of person that can take much attention away from me," Therefore that meant that he was alright with her, at least for the time being.

Ryuuto adjusted his glasses on his face in thought, "Uzumaki is an alright fellow. I actually like him believe it or not," And he left it at that, noticing that the gum the silent Berserker had been chewing his gum harder the entire time he'd been listening.

That had not been what most of them had been expecting,

Rimi poked the object of her adoration in the shoulder, making sure she had his attention, "Ryuuto-sama, aren't you going to say, 'It's a shame he's going to die soon?' Or something like that. Rimi figured you would."

"No, because none of them are going to kill him," Ryuuto deadpanned before finding it necessary to explain. They didn't understand the credit he was giving Naruto, "I would bet anything on it."

"Now why would you go and say something rude like that?"

From a back room, Hyougo walked out, looking as if he had just gotten through napping while everyone else had been out before meeting there to gather.

Ogata clapped his hands once, grinning at the tension he could feel in the air, "Oh, I wasn't aware any of you were here already," A lie, because of course he had known. However, he himself had nothing but disdain for the armed division. The armed and unarmed sides were simply meant to work together in order to achieve Yami's overall goals. Then they could continue feuding in earnest, "This is one of the disciples of 'The Unmoving Warrior' Raigou Seitarou.

"I'll bet you-," Hyougo began as he meandered around the room carelessly, "-That one of us can beat Uzumaki before one of you beats Shirahama."

Rachel let out a bark of laughter, letting him know just how likely she felt that scenario was. The rest of the disciples simply dropped everything and chose to radiate pure killing intent at Hyougo, who merely shrugged it off and turned to Ryuuto, the only one who seemed to be amused at the situation.

Instead of taking offense, he seemed to be considering doing more than turning the talk into a pissing contest between the two schools of combat disciplines.

Walking face-to-face with Hyougu, no sense of malice in him whatsoever, Ryuuto called his bluff, "What do you have in mind?"

A grin crossed the kodachi-user's face, hearing that his little setup was actually going to come with some sort of consequence. And he knew what he wanted.

"The winner gets priority on taking the other one," Hyougo proposed, "As in, the losing side drops all claims to fighting the surviving disciple until everyone on the winning side gets their chance first. That's not too hard to understand, right?"

This was a big deal. If either side could kill both the Strongest Disciple, and the disciple of Kousaka Shigure, the future would be tipped in their favor, which meant that the future power shift in Yami's makeup would turn to the side that was able to accomplish it.

It wasn't just some little children's wager, and it wasn't some joke. Martial arts weren't only about the strength and skill that lied with one's abilities. A major part of it was reputation; the notoriety that came with achieving incredible feats and defeating those with name recognition.

The bragging rights that came with winning and then taking advantage of the 'prize' had a chance at shaping the very path of what martial arts was destined to become in the eyes of the Satsujinken.

Hyougo stepped back with a swagger to him, "So, how about it?"

As if he even needed to look around and ask.

Ogata's eyes glinted with mirth as he simply sat back and observed. Competition was the spice of growth as a fighter after all, and this was as productive as anyone could have hoped the disciples could be.

Instead of Ryuuto agreeing to the terms, Berserker was the one who spoke, standing uncomfortably close behind Hyougo, with a pop of his bubble gum he looked down on the smaller martial artist with an impassive expression, "You're on."

Enough said.


Okay you guys, so that's the chapter. Not actiony, certainly, but you can't go all-out every time. I'll have more of the characters people like written in next time. This time was just really to establish where things are going next.

Now most of the time in both of these series the protagonists seem to be reactionary to the actions of the antagonists. I would like to shake that up a bit, and I feel a need to instigate such in order to try and keep things lively for you the lovely reader. Because I'm all heart baby.

A more proactive approach on the side of the protagonists needs to be taken, and I have to create the catalyst to cause such a thing to take place. I know how I'm going to do it, it'll be soon, and I know something I'm going to do little later as well.

Anyway, I'm done. I hope you enjoyed.

Kenchi out.